Category Archives: Human systems

The Nuts and Bolts of Collective Reflection

Reflective leaders are distinguished by patterns of regular self-assessment and analysis. Reflective organizations employ similar mechanisms of collective reflection and shared stock-taking.

But how are such structures established in the workplace?

At the heart of any robust system of organization-wide assessment is the collection of data related to workplace culture and perceptions. Drawing from both quantitative and qualitative evaluations, metrics of this kind allow the human dimensions of organizational life to be assessed in specific and concrete terms.

Data, though, find their greatest utility as a stimulus for discussion and reflection. Facts and figures are important, but conversations are the primary point of leverage in any survey process. It is through conversations that shared understanding is built, insights are identified, root causes of challenges are articulated, and ideas for action are generated.

Leaders must therefore find ways to facilitate dialogue through the entirety of an organization. They must not only talk about the importance of collective reflection, they must devote time and resources to nurturing it.

This can and should take place through formal and management-directed structures. But an organization that reflects only when a meeting is call to do so is not a reflective organization.

Leaders must therefore also work to nurture informal patterns of collective reflection, those spontaneous conversations emerging organically around the water cooler, the lunch table, the parking lot.

Finally, just as individual leaders often benefit from seeking out the perceptions of others, organizations may sometimes wish to seek assistance from external resources. Fresh viewpoints and perspectives can shed great insight on an organization’s own internal findings.

Strategies such as these help code purposeful and unified reflection into the DNA of an organization. They help establish habits of reflection that ensure that whatever external challenges an organization might face, its internal functioning will continue to grow and develop.


The Buck Stops Where?

The data were clear. Three supervisors were doing a great job. Three others were struggling or failing outright. The CEO instinctively approached the survey results as a tool to pinpoint deficient managers. But our experience suggested that the problem lay less in any one individual’s failures than in the overall variation of leadership within the… Continue Reading

The Role of Leaders of Leaders

We once worked with a manufacturing company that was trying to move from a top-down leadership approach to a more participation-focused system. Brian, a manager of one of the larger plants, readily accepted the challenge building a new concept of leadership and was doing an excellent job of making unfamiliar and sometimes difficult choices. One… Continue Reading

Reducing Disunity or Building Unity?

To the extent that leaders consider workplace unity at all, they tend to think in terms of fixing what’s broken. Discord is overlooked in countless forms and action is taken only when conditions get truly out of hand, when people are shouting in hallways or departments are refusing to work with one another. But just… Continue Reading

Unity, Contest, and Competition

Why do leaders accept the largely avoidable costs of disagreement, turf issues, silos, politics, competition, cliques, hostility, and other forms of organizational disunity?  Below-the-line beliefs about human nature play a role. But equally influential are related beliefs about the role of contest and competition in society. Competition is almost universally seen (in Western societies, at… Continue Reading

Unity, Discord, and the Reality of Human Nature

If it is in fact true that organizational performance rises with growing levels of agreement, collaboration, reciprocity and shared vision, why do leaders accept significant (and largely avoidable) costs of disunity?  Much has to do with widespread below-the-line beliefs that disunity is just the way things are. “It’s human nature,” clients have again and again… Continue Reading

Organizational Unity: Success (or Failure) at the Widest Level

Organizations succeed or fail as whole systems. They can no more thrive on the strength of most-favored aspects than a car can use a functioning drive shaft and carburetor to make up for a dead alternator and flat tires. Systems whose elements are mismatched, sub-optimized, disconnected, or otherwise disunited will, therefore, inevitably fail to reach… Continue Reading

Forging a Reflective Organization

Leadership development is, at one level, an individual pursuit, focusing on leaders’ own strengths and challenges, successes and failures. The discipline of reflective leadership itself is grounded in individual attitudes and beliefs, and the personal choices they give rise to.    At another level, however, leadership development is concerned with collective patterns of association and… Continue Reading

© Copyright 1999-2012 Management Associates. All rights reserved.